Almost Half of Americans Die Close to Penniless

Half of Americans reach the end of their lives with virtually no assets, relying entirely on government programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The results indicate that any changes to these safety net programs would threaten the welfare of older Americans.

Indeed, about 46% of senior citizens in the US have less than $10,000 in financial assets when they die. Most of these people rely almost totally on Social Security payments as their only formal means of support, according to a study out of Dartmouth College and Harvard University.

That means many seniors have almost no independent ability to withstand financial shocks, such as expensive medical treatments that may not be covered by Medicare or Medicaid, or other unexpected, costly events. Given the costs of funerals, it’s fair to say that less than $10,000 is virtually penniless.

The study also confirmed the relationship between wealth and longevity, revealing a “strong correspondence” between wealth in 1993 and the length of time that people lived. That relationship held true across a variety of asset classes: People whose homes were worth more, who had larger retirement incomes, and who had more financial savings all tended to live longer than those who had fewer assets. While there is a “very active debate” among social scientists about the precise causal relationship between wealth and health, the study helps confirm that “the patterns of health status in these years are quite persistent.” 

And the replacement of fixed-pension plans with 401Ks will make this situation even direr in the future, as market fluctuations hurt individual finances.

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